Lots of industries care about intellectual property and proprietary information, but perhaps none more so than the automotive industry where product development is seen as the competitive edge.

For that reason, you can see why many car companies are hesitant to fully embrace open innovation business practices. If they asked for ideas publicly, it’s possible that their competitors would also see that information and steal the ideas for themselves.

However, we know of at least one car company that put out a global challenge and didn’t suffer for that investment. Essentially, they asked the global community of motorists for ways that they could improve the racecar. They received hundreds of ideas, but ended up building two new racing features that were originally suggested by the crowd (a Google glasses integration and some updates to the driver dashboard). Not only did they get new ideas that they had never thought of before, they were able to implement those ideas faster than they ever had in the past. So how did they succeed while also maintaining their competitive advantage? Well, there are a few reasons why open innovation works without showing your hand to competitors.

Task Chunking. TopCoder is also great at this. If you ask for “parts” of ideas rather than for the idea in its entirety, it’s less likely that a competitor is going to be able to put all the pieces together themselves or copy you. It’s like the parable of the blind men and an elephant – when you’re only seeing a piece, everyone comes up with a different whole. And we’re hearing more and more, that disruptive ideas are more likely to emerge when you combine different ideas.

Ideas are Just the Start. Ideas are only the first step in a crucial process of research, development, evaluation, prototyping, and launching. Even if you have great ideas, but you fail at developing and improving them within the bounds of your organization, then you’re not going to remain a leader. Make sure that you are masters of process – not just masters of the blank canvas.

Ability to Rapidly Respond and Iterate. In the future, ideas will not be the competitive edge, but our ability to rapidly respond and test. Find ways to rapidly test, measure, and improve new ideas within your organization. The fact that Magneti Marelli was able to respond so quickly to these new suggestions also helped them  maintain their competitive edge.

To read the full story about Magneti Marelli (in comic book form, no less), you can download their case study here.

By Rob Hoehn

About the author

Rob Hoehn is the co-founder and CEO of IdeaScale: the largest open innovation software platform in the world. Hoehn launched crowdsourcing software as part of the open government initiative and IdeaScale’s robust portfolio now includes many other industry notables, such as EA Sports, NBC, NASA, Xerox and many others. Prior to IdeaScale, Hoehn was Vice President of Client Services at Survey Analytics.